Mystery of the declining donkeys in India as their number goes up in Pakistan

Growing demand in China for donkey hide is being cited as the reason for the number of donkeys growing to 5.6 million in Pakistan but declining to just 0.12 million in India

Mystery of the declining donkeys in India as their number goes up in Pakistan

Shalini Sahay

The latest animal census in Pakistan this week confirmed that the number of donkeys in that country is going up. In contrast, the last animal census in India indicated in 2019 that the number of donkeys in this country is declining sharply.

Curiously both the increase in Pakistan and the decline in India are attributed to the high demand of donkey hide in China. It is apparently used to make a gelatine which goes into making a traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, donkey meat is said to be in high demand in parts of Andhra Pradesh, where it is believed to enhance virility.

Pakistan’s newspaper Dawn reported this week, “Donkey population in Pakistan increased by 100,000 during the current fiscal year of 2020-21 to reach 5.6 million. However, the population growth of horses and mules remained stagnant, the Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-21 revealed.”

Donkeys are being exported to China, the report added, where it is highly priced ‘especially for their hide which is used to manufacture traditional Chinese medicines. Gelatin made from donkey skin is believed to have medicinal properties, traditionally thought to nourish the blood and enhance the immune system.

While the report suggests that Pakistani donkeys are being exported to China, are Indian donkeys too making their way there? If so, are they going officially or unofficially? Asked to comment, a BJP functionary solemnly said that the party would wait for Ram Madhav or Sambit Patra to throw light on the subject.

But jokes apart, the 2019 census did show that the number of donkeys across India had fallen from 330,000 in the 2012 Livestock Census to 120,000 in 2019, a decline of around 62 per cent. In Rajasthan alone that fall was close to 72 per cent – from 81,000 to 23,000.

For nomadic and other very poor groups of people in Rajasthan, the animal is an important source of livelihood. “Donkeys can thrive in very hot conditions and hold out better than some other animals in situations of fodder scarcity,” show studies.

A major reason is said to be the decline in the use of donkeys for short-distance transport as carriers or cart-pullers. The poorest donkey-rearing communities are also said to have migrated to other occupations and they are unable to provide for the donkeys any longer.

Despite their dwindling numbers, donkeys continue to be deployed in large numbers in sectors such as brick kilns, construction, tourism, agriculture and transportation of goods and people.

Since donkeys have mostly disappeared from Andhra Pradesh, donkeys are being brought in from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Donkey meat is not categorised as an “animal food” under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s Food Safety and Standards, 2011, making its slaughter and consumption illegal.

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